An impressive feat of mental gymnastics

13 06 2017

In an op-ed at Asian Currents, Arjun Subrahmanyan, a lecturer in Southeast Asian History at Murdoch University in Australia, makes some excellent points about how the understanding of the 1932 revolution has been kidnapped by royalist propagandists.

Some of his points can be quoted here, but we urge readers to look at the whole thing. He begins:

The recent disappearance of a plaque commemorating the 1932 revolution in Siam shows the suspicion over popular sovereignty that still prevails in the country. The event, staged by a group of commoners known as the People’s Party, ended the absolute monarchy and introduced constitutional democracy. In a region where state-enforced historical amnesia is rife today, Thailand has turned it into an art form.

He asks: What threat did the plaque pose? His answer is “its symbolic reminder that commoners revolted against the king and that democracy once did, and still does, matter to people.” That’s why the military dictatorship and the king wanted it disappeared, just like uncomfortable critics.

He refers to the invented ideology of “royalist democracy” or what we call Thai-style democracy as an “impressive feat of mental gymnastics, [for] this contortion has identified the monarchy as democratic, and the king of the 1930s as bestowing democracy on a grateful people. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth…”.

He says this has been a powerful and silencing “royal democratic swindle” that deceptively

presents the People’s Party as neither popular nor a party, but an oligarchic cabal bent on power. The revolution was a coup against established, sacred authority. The democracy introduced in 1932 was a sham, a power grab by people who used highly idealistic language that no one understood….

It’s a royalist lie, perpetuated by military and royalist regimes and their academic ideologues.

But to defend “democracy’s popular origins in Thailand seems like a doomed cause, and today a very dangerous one.” That’s especially true as the military junta presses Thailand towards an “election” that is also a royalist swindle.

The pity is that those who populate the decrepit political parties are salivating like hungry dogs over the possibility of following the junta’s rules for years to come.


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